- Last July, I enjoyed the hospitality of a most amazing group, the
nuns of the Orthodox convent of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross near
the town of Thebes. The convent of 30 nuns is unique in Greece because
it is a moni alodapon, an international group.
The women in the sisterhood come from a number of countries. This is worth noting since the Greek Orthodox Church, unlike the Catholic and the Protestant churches, has no tradition of proselytizing outsiders and has a very different concept of mission. Converts are welcomed but they are not sought after. In addition to the Greek sisters, the convent’s nuns come from parts of the former Soviet Union, such as Armenia and Ukraine, while the younger sisters hail from Norway, South Africa, Israel and the US (Kansas, Ohio, New York and California). Sister Aemiliani, the secretary and chronicler of the convent, has a doctorate in developmental psychology from Harvard University.
Mother Superior Diodora was born a Protestant in Germany but she decided to join the Orthodox Church during a visit to Greece in 1987. After attaining a Fine Arts degree in Berlin, she studied theology at the University of Athens and joined a convent in Jerusalem. She speaks more than five languages including English and Hebrew.
Many of the sisters come from well-off families in countries where material comforts are taken for granted. The exceptional camaraderie that joins these women is born, in part, from the great challenges and the poverty they faced during the convent’s founding. For the convent’s first two years, the sisters were compelled to carry their water in buckets from the village fountain to the top of a very steep hill.
What made these women decide to devote themselves to a life of poverty and hard manual work in the middle of nowhere? From what they told me, the answer seems to be in the deep spirituality of a church that has very little use for preachers. Instead, the church relies on ancient ritual to bring the members of the congregation close to one other and to transfuse the spiritual life to seekers.
The convent was founded by the Very Reverent Father Bishop Dionisios in 1995 on about 25 acres of land donated by a local family. At first, the only building was a small country chapel. For six years, the sisters lived in metal cargo containers supplied by the Greek government. Working in the blazing heat of summer and the freezing cold of winter, the sisters learned valuable building skills by helping the workers who constructed the convent’s main building.
Their sources of income are meager. Most of the proceeds from the collection tray must go to pay the convent’s electric bill. One of Mother Superior’s dreams is to switch to solar electricity.
The sisters try to use environment-friendly solutions in their project - not only out of conviction but also because it makes sense. Organic farming will be a major activity for them. They have started an organic garden on soil that is pesticide-free but very hard. The land will need a lot of tilling and compost. Much of the land is on steep slope but, with terracing, some of it can be cultivated. This will require hard work and know-how.
The sisters are working to preserve the disappearing genetic pool of Greece’s horticultural heritage by growing heirloom varieties of vegetables. It is fitting that this work should be conducted by a convent since it was our prehistoric grandmothers who invented agriculture. And it was women’s labor that largely created the huge genetic diversity that modern industrial societies have been so busy destroying.
What You Can Do The sisters of the Holy Cross Monastery [GR-32200 Thebes Boeotias, Greece, firstname.lastname@example.org] would appreciate receiving books on organic gardening. The Journal is working with Real Goods Trading Company [13771 S. Highway 101, Hopland, CA 95449, (707) 744-2100, fax -1342] to help the sisters to obtain photovoltaic panels to provide solar power for the convent. The Journal’s Green Pages Fund has sent a $200 grant for tree-planting to the sisters of the Holy Cross Monastery.
Theodore Theodoratos is a Greek-American environmental reporter based in Alameda, California.
Eve: Earth’s First Matriot
Book excerpt from “Extract from Adam’s Diary,” by Mark Twain
Perhaps I ought to remember that she is very young, a mere girl, and make allowances. She is all interest, eagerness, vivacity, the world is to her a charm, a wonder, a mystery, a joy; she can’t speak for delight when she finds a new flower, she must pet it and caress it and smell it and talk to it, and pour out endearing names upon it.
And she is color-mad: brown rocks, yellow sand, gray moss, green foliage, blue sky; the pearl of the dawn, the purple shadows on the mountains, the golden islands floating in crimson seas at sunset, the pallid moon sailing through the shredded cloud-rack, the star-jewels glittering in the wastes of space - none of them is of any practical value, so far as I can see, but because they have color and majesty, that is enough for her, and she loses her mind over them.
If there’s anything on the planet that she is not interested in, it is not in my list. There are animals that I am indifferent to, but it is not so with her. She has no discrimination, she takes to all of them, she thinks they are all treasures, every new one is welcome.
If she could quiet down and keep still a couple of minutes at a time, it would be a reposeful spectacle. In that case, I think I could enjoy looking at her: Indeed I am sure I could, for I am coming to realize that she is a quite remarkably comely creature - lithe, slender, trim, rounded, shapely, nimble, graceful: and once when she was standing marble-white and sun-drenched on a boulder, with her young head tilted back and her hand shading her eyes, watching the flight of a bird in the sky, I recognized that she was beautiful.
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